November 27, 2013

Never Too Late To Retire Red Kelly's Jersey In Detroit


I recently got a comment on my Red Kelly feature that really caught me off guard. Here's what "anonymous" said:

As a Wings fan and someone who enjoys digging into sports history, it baffles me that the Wings haven't retired his number. He's easily the second-best d-man they've ever had, a key component of their dynasty, and a top ten d-man all time.

I had to double check to make sure the commenter was correct. Of course the Detroit Red Wings retired Red Kelly's jersey, didn't they? He truly is one of the all time greats. Surely they must have.

And of course they have not. When Red Kelly was traded to Toronto in February of 1960, Marc Reaume immediately took the jersey. Since then the likes of Tim Friday, Jim Leavins, Jeff Sharples, Rick Zombo, Mark Howe, Jamie Pushor, Uwe Krupp, Jamie Rivers, Cory Cross, Kyle Quincey and Jakub Kindl have worn the jersey Kelly made famous.

Kelly was the dominant defenseman prior to the emergence of Doug Harvey in Montreal. Kelly was an instrumental part of a dynasty that saw the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups between 1950 and 1955. In my books he is one of the top 50 players in hockey history, and one of the top 10 defensemen.

How could they not put #4 up in the rafters after all this time?

Now in Detroit's defense, there are a few other Red Wings who could easily be in line for such an honour, too. Marcel Pronovost. Norm Ullman. Larry Aurie and Vladimir Konstantinov have had their numbers removed from circulation but not truly honoured. And from much more recent memory how about Sergei Fedorov?

Kelly did not leave Detroit on the best of terms. But neither did Ted Lindsay or Terry Sawchuk, thanks to the tyrannical boss Jack Adams. But that should all be water under the bridge by now, you'd think.

Perhaps the reason the Detroit Red Wings have not fully honoured Kelly is because he went on to star with the Maple Leafs for seven more seasons and winning four more Stanley Cups. The Leafs honoured him long ago. And then he went on to coach them later, too. Perhaps Red Kelly is better associated with the Leafs than the Wings?

That should not matter. Red Kelly's contributions to a Detroit hockey dynasty should be better remembered. Retiring his number 4 is long over due.

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